Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

Bobby Jindal said in a 2015 address to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that teachers are still at their jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe.

That was when he was touting his ambitious education reform package that was designed to promote and enrich the operators of charter and virtual schools by pulling the financial rug from under public education in Louisiana.

That, of course, only served to further demoralize teachers and to punish those students from low-income families who could not afford charter schools but all that mattered little to Jindal. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that his former chief of staff Steve Waguespack now heads LABI.

Lest one think that sorry attitude toward teachers and the teaching profession went away in January 2016 when Jindal exited the governor’s office, leaving a fiscal mess for his successor, John Bel Edwards, think again.

Here’s a little wakeup call for those of you who may have been lulled into a false sense of security now that the husband of a teacher occupies the governor’s office: That disdain for public education has carried over into the halls of Congress via this proposed new tax bill now being ironed out between the House and Senate.

Much has already been written about how the tax bill is supposed to benefit the middle class when in reality it does just the opposite—yet those blindly loyal zealots, those supporters of child molesters, those adherents of the Republican-can-do-no-wrong-because-they-wrap-themselves-in-a-flag-and-wave-a-bible-in-one-hand-and-a-gun-in-the-other mantra continue to drink the Kool-Aid and cling to the insane theory that Trump, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have their best interests at heart.

These delusional people get all bent out of shape when a jock refuses to kneel at a football game because they consider it an affront to our military (it’s not) while this tax bill rips more than $40 billion from HUD, including programs that help provide housing for homeless VETERANS. How’s that for honoring our fighting men and women? Where the hell are your real priorities?

Any of you die-hard Republicans out there on Medicare? Are you ready to take a $25 billion HIT? You will under this tax “reform.”

All you Trump supporters who have been so critical of the federal deficit prepared to see that deficit increased by a whopping $1.4 trillion? Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy are. So are Reps. Steve Scalise, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garrett Graves.

Those of you with college kids presently on tuition exemptions like TOPS might want to get ready; your son or daughter is going to have to declare those benefits as taxable income. Is that why you voted Republican?

And while all this is going down, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the proposed tax “reform” will eliminate the tax on inherited fortunes (you know, the kind that made Donald Trump Donald Trump) and will maintain the “carried interest” loophole which taxes the fees of private-equity fund managers (read: the mega-rich, Wall Street bankers, etc.) at low capital gains rates instead of the higher income tax rates.

But after all that’s said and done, the part of the tax bill that really turns my stomach, the part that sticks in my throat, is a provision that is of so small an amount as to be insignificant—if it weren’t for the principle of the whole thing.

Call it a carry over from Jindal, a snub of teachers, or whatever, it’s galling.

Here it is:

Teachers, particularly elementary teachers, traditionally spend hundreds of dollars per year of their own money on materials and supplies for their classrooms. And it’s not for them, it’s for the children. Keep that in mind, folks. While there are parents out there who would rather buy meth and booze and cigarettes than supplies for their kids, there are teachers who quietly enter the school supply stories and stock up so that kid will have a chance.

Call it personal, if you wish, and it might well be. When I was a student at Ruston High School, I was injured right after school one day. My English teacher, Miss Maggie Hinton, never hesitated. She led me to her powder blue 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and took me to Green Clinic—and paid the doctor to patch me up. You never hear the Jindals of the world tell those kinds of stories. They don’t fit their agenda.

Under the present tax laws, these teachers, who on average spend $500 to $600 per year (school principals, by the way spend an average of $683 of their own money annually on snacks and other food items for students, decorations and supplies like binders and paper), can take a tax deduction of up to $250 for those expenditures. (And to interject a very personal story, once, while I was making a purchase for a school in Livingston Parish at Clegg’s Plant Nursery, the owner would not accept my money. He donated the items because he, too, supports public education.)

Now understand, that’s a tax deduction of up to $250, not a tax credit, which would be a dollar-for-dollar tax cut. A deduction benefits the teacher only $40 or so off her taxes. But at least it’s something.

The Senate version of the new tax bill would double that deduction to $500, thank you very much.

So, what’s my beef?

Nothing much…except the HOUSE version would eliminate the deduction in its entirety.

That’s right. While the Republicans want to take care of the fat cats (those in Trump’s income bracket would realize tax breaks of approximately $37,000), teachers, under the House version of this tax bill would no longer get even that paltry $40. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Thank you, Garrett Graves, et al.

That really angers me and it should anger every person in Louisiana with even a scintilla of a conscience.

Because teachers are my heroes. Nearly fifty-seven years after graduating from Ruston High School, my heroes are still named Hinton, Ryland, Perkins, Garner, Lewis, Peoples, Edmunds, Barnes,  Johnson, Garrett & Garrett (any I omitted is only because I took no classes under them). They took a personal interest in a kid with no real promise and made him a little better person. They and my grandparents alone have stood the test of what a true hero should be.

And I am proud to defend the honor of teachers everywhere in their memory.

And the fact that five Louisiana House members—who, by the way, are all up for reelection in 2018—voted for this tax “reform” bill that slaps my heroes in the face really pisses me off.

Did I mention those five are up for reelection next year? That’s 2018, less than a year from now.

A smart voter remembers who represents him.

Those not so smart should go fishing on election day.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

It’s now been 20 months since that 17-year-old girl was RAPED twice in a jail cell in the Union Parish Detention Center in April 2016 and there still has been no resolution to the ongoing investigation by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Because the detention center is administered by a committee that includes the local district attorney, he properly recused himself and the case was turned over to the attorney general for investigation.

To refresh, the girl was brought to the detention center after being found high on meth. Demarcus Shavez Peyton, 28, of Homer, was being held in the center awaiting a scheduled sentencing for his conviction of aggravated rape.

Sometime on the night of April 19, he was released from his cell and he entered the girl’s cell and raped her twice.

So, what’s to investigate? The victim is known. The perpetrator is known. The date is known. The location, a tiny, restricted jail cell, is known. It just doesn’t make sense that the “investigation” is taking so long when Landry is so quick to jump on every decision or action of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

It seems from my perspective that Landry is spending more time and energy on watching every move of Edwards and preparing his own run for governor rather than concentrating on his own job duties.

For that reason, I started making monthly checks into the progress of the investigation. Here’s one response to my first inquiry from his press secretary:

From: Wisher, Ruth [mailto:WisherR@ag.louisiana.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 11:25 AM
To: ‘Tom Aswell’ <azspeak@cox.net>
Subject: RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST

Mr. Tom,

 This matter is under investigation, therefore I cannot comment on the specifics or answer questions at this time.  

That has been the consistent response to my monthly update request, including the latest:

From: AG Landry News
Sent: Wednesday, December 06, 2017 10:02 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: RE: FOLLOW UP: STATUS

Good morning,

This is an ongoing investigation therefore I cannot comment on any specifics.

And that’s not the only case of Landry’s foot-dragging on cases other than the low-hanging fruit he seizes upon for his regular press releases to display his tough on crime stance.

When an employee of the DeSoto Parish district attorney’s office cashed more 580 money orders at the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office—money orders that amounted to something on the order of $130,000—the district attorney recused himself from the investigation on the basis of his being the victim of the theft. Accordingly, he called upon the attorney general’s office to conduct the investigation.

That was in February 2014, during the administration of Landry’s predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, the singing attorney general. Caldwell’s record was no better than Landry’s but when Landry came into office, the case continued to languish with neither attorney general ever filing any documents with the court.

The employee worked in the district attorney’s worthless checks and diversion programs, responsible for overseeing the case files, accepting payments from defendants, and recording receipts of payments.

A federal grand jury finally indicted her, charging than when she would direct defendants to pay with money orders with the recipient’s and remitter’s names left blank. She would then accept money orders for payments. Instead of recording the payment, she would notate the cases nolle pros, or charges rejected and then enter her name as the payee and cash the money orders at the sheriff’s office.

But Caldwell apparently was too busy with his Elvis impersonations and Landry was too involved in grinding out his daily press releases to burnish his reputation as a modern-day Marshall Dillon to waste time on remote parishes like DeSoto and Union.

Let’s face it: A felon in DeSoto Parish and a teenage meth addict rape victim in Union Parish aren’t likely to generate much sympathy or many votes in his run for governor.

A man trying to establish a reputation as a straight-shootin’, straight-talkin’ tough-on-crime politician still has to be pragmatic, after all.

Read Full Post »

First of all, let’s give credit where it’s due: Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian pulled off a major coup in securing and publishing the FINDINGS of the Legislative Auditor’s preliminary report of its audit of Louisiana State Police (LSP). The fact that the document is a draft and not the final document in no way diminishes the importance of the findings nor does it really matter how Mustian obtained it—except perhaps to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who was subjected to withering criticism in the report, is livid that it was leaked before he had an opportunity to respond to its findings. He texted Mustian to say that by reporting the audit’s contents, “you will be negating my legal right to review. The process is for me to respond back to them first, not the media. Whoever furnished you with the report did so without the approval of the auditor’s office,” he said.

Purpera told LouisianaVoice that he is confident the leak did not come from his office because he tracks who has access to reports prior to their release. That would appear to narrow the premature release to someone within LSP. But appearances are misleading.

As the officials say during those college and NFL football games, upon further review, a WWL-TV newscast about the audit Friday may have inadvertently revealed the real source of the leak. If you go to the 40-second spot on this VIDEO, you will see a screenshot of the auditor’s Nov. 28 cover letter to….Edmonson. The only other audit copy went to LSP but that one did not contain the cover letter to the former superintendent.

That can mean only one thing: The audit report was leaked by none other than Edmonson himself—or by someone to whom he provided a copy of the report.

So, it would seem that his anger over the premature release of the audit is somewhat misplaced.

And the fact remains that had Edmonson not gamed the system to his and his family’s advantage, there would be no reason for him to find it necessary to exercise his “legal right to review.”

Edmonson, who many rank-and-file troopers refer to as “Precious,” said he was preparing a detailed response to the “lengthy” report and that he looked forward to “answering any questions after the release of the final report.” We can’t wait.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a New Orleans watchdog group that monitors public wrongdoing, said the audit showed Edmonson to be “less the colonel of the State Police and more the Boss Hog of the State Police,” a reference to the popular TV series that ran from 1979 to 1985. He said the audit signaled “a day of celebration” for rank-and-file troopers who were aware of what Edmonson was doing to the organization and of his “self-serving decisions.”

Meanwhile, details that have come out of LSP headquarters about the manner in which Edmonson mixed personal and departmental business, accepted free hotel rooms and other services, and generally ran the department like his own fiefdom has gotten the attention of the feds.

“The Louisiana State Police has been and continues to coordinate efforts with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding this matter,” said Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, in a statement to The Advocate and to LouisianaVoice.

U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson, of the Middle District of Louisiana, confirmed that his office “has been and will continue coordinating with State Police,” Mustian reported.

LSP Public Affairs Officer Lt. J.B. Slaton also said, “We continue to cooperate with the Legislative Auditor’s office. The department is currently formulating our response to the findings and recommendations of the audit. That response will be included in the final report and disseminated by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.” He said any further comment “would be premature and interfere with the Legislative Auditor’s standard procedures and directives to the department.”

So, what, exactly, does that audit report say?

Well, here are a few of the low points taken from Mustian’s story:

  • He used a state credit card to purchase more than $7,000 in special meals without approval from the Division of Administration and without sufficient documentation to show their business purpose.
  • He moved his family into the Department of Public Safety (DPS) compound “without legal authority” to do so, allowing taxpayers to pick up the cost of his utilities, including cable TV and electricity. Its formal name is the Residential Conference Center. It was constructed in 2002 and intended only to house the governor and State Police superintendent during emergencies such as hurricanes.
  • He did not include his use of the residence, valued at nearly $435,000, as a fringe benefit on his federal form W-2 during the time he and his family resided there, from February 2008 (right after his appointment by Bobby Jindal) to March 2017 when he retired under fire from the now notorious San Diego TRIP. Auditors feel he should have paid taxes on the benefit but are uncertain if he did. Perhaps that’s one of the questions he will answer.
  • He made a practice of requiring state troopers to transport his wife to various places: bar-hopping in New Orleans, gambling in Lake Charles, to the Baton Rouge airport, or to take his wife, mother-in-law and a friend to and from a Bob Seger concert in Lafayette. On one such occasion, troopers said they were ordered to escort Mrs. Edmonson and a friend to the French Quarter while they were wearing costumes that may have included parts of the LSP uniform.
  • He procured complimentary hotel rooms in New Orleans for friends and family and even received improper reimbursement for them. He allowed friends and family to stay in extra hotel rooms that were paid for by the city of New Orleans and which were intended for troopers working Mardi Gras detail. He would receive multiple rooms in his name or the names of other troopers, the report said. He also received reimbursement from State Police for a hotel room in 2014 even though the city of New Orleans had reserved a room for him in a different hotel. In February 2015, he allowed two friends to stay in a Windsor Court suite that was intended for troopers. He admitted inviting the friends but said he thought they paid for the room. A friend of Edmonson’s said Edmonson booked rooms for him and his wife at Windsor Court on numerous occasions but that they did not know they were paid for by the city of New Orleans. In 2016, Edmonson obtained another room and Loews New Orleans Hotel for his stepdaughter and her friend that was intended for a trooper. Edmonson claimed it was an “extra room” that had been taken out of service because the air conditioner was broken.
  • He annually received free tickets to the Endymion Mardi Gras Extravaganza. State law prohibits public servants from accepting anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or organization who has or is seeking contractual or other business or financial relationships with that public servant’s agency. Endymion paid LSP nearly $400,000 from 2013 to 2017 for security details.
  • He received more than $6,300 between January 2014 and March 2017 as a daily allowance from LSP to pay for cleaning his uniform. Yet he used the dry-cleaning service at the Governor’s Mansion to clean his uniform and other clothing for free.
  • He consistently failed to pay for his meals at the State Police cafeteria. While he told auditors it was possible during his tenure that he walked out of the cafeteria without paying for his coffee, the cafeteria manager said he failed to pay for his meals at least half the time.
  • He ordered inmates to deliver food to his residence, used state resources to service his son’s jeep and his wife’s vehicle, and had prisoners cook, clean, and walk the family dog.

Those were some of the specifics. In general terms, the audit painted a portrait of a freeloader who was not above taking every handout that came his way, Mustian said.

Basically, most of the points covered are things the media knew—or at least suspected— Edmonson was doing all along, so the audit’s criticisms are really nothing new at all.

One LouisianaVoice reader wrote on Facebook, “Karma is such a good thing.”

Some have a different word for it.

Read Full Post »

We have apparently entered into an era in which a public servant who does his job as he should now runs the risk of being named a defendant in one of those strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) discussed in recent LouisianaVoice posts.

The very prospect of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera being sued for issuing a press release about an audit report his office performed should send a chill throughout the Fourth Estate—mainstream media as well as bloggers. Who’s to say you can’t be sued for discussing an audit report over a Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry recently won a court victory when the judge threw out not one, but four SLAPP LAWSUITS against him but now the attorney for the four who sued him—the Welsh mayor, her children, and the police chief—is attempting to get the presiding judge recused from the case in a desperate attempt to keep the frivolous lawsuits alive.

Louviere v Perry

Johnson v Perry

Cormier v Perry

And now we have a STORY in the Baton Rouge Advocate telling us that Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft is suing Purpera on behalf of her client, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs David LaCerte—not because an investigative audit by Purpera’s office found that LaCerte, a Bobby Jindal appointee, allowed fraudulent behavior in his department, but because Purpera had the audacity to issue a press release saying so.

The state asked that 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Purpera was protected by the same statute that protects the speech of legislators.

Incredulously, Morvant ruled that while the auditor’s investigative report was protected, the press release issued by Purpera’s office was not. “I don’t think the press release falls within that immunity,” Morvant said, apparently with a straight face.

That immediately raises the question of whether or not the media are free to write their own story from the report. In other words, yer honor, can I, as a news reporter, write a comprehensive story that accurately reflects the contents of the audit without fear of some attorney swooping down and SLAPPing me?

  • Can LouisianaVoice or The Advocate, or any other medium be SLAPPed for writing that a contract for the privatization of a state hospital contained 50 blank pages, even though it did?
  • Is it defamation that reporters wrote about the oil and gas industry pouring contributions into the campaigns of a governor who killed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies?
  • Can Lamar White be SLAPPed because he wrote about U.S. Rep. Steven Scalise speaking at an event attended by David Duke? That certainly didn’t reflect well on Scalise’s image.
  • Can Bob Mann be SLAPPed for admonishing Republican politicians to quit calling themselves “pro-life” if they “can’t speak out on behalf of sick kids” after Louisiana’s congressional delegation remained silent after Congress allowed the CHIP program to expire? That was, after all, a pretty damning condemnation of those self-righteous Republicans who seem to believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.
  • Can Robert Burns be SLAPPed for documenting payroll fraud on the part of an employee of a state board?
  • Can The Lens, a New Orleans online news service, be SLAPPed for exposing the Orleans Parish District Attorney for issuing bogus subpoenas?
  • Can a Houma blogger be SLAPPed for criticizing Sheriff Jerry Larpenter? Apparently the sheriff thought he could be at least raided. Instead Larpenter wound up having to pay substantial damages in the ensuing lawsuit, so at least there’s that.

We’ve already seen SLAPP suits where Superintendent of Education JOHN WHITE sued private citizen James Finney over Finney’s request for public records.

That followed a similar lawsuit filed by 4th Judicial District JUDGES against the Ouachita Citizen over the newspaper’s unmitigated gall in seeking public records from the court.

When the audit was issued, LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false. Both the interim secretary and the newly-appointed secretary of Veterans’ Affairs agreed with the findings and had taken corrective actions, Purpera’s news release said. The news release also noted that LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false.”

One thing Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP laws do is provide for the awarding of legal fees should a defendant prevail in one of these outrageous attempts to stifle public discourse.

Perry stands to collect something on the order of $16,000 in attorney fees. If plaintiff attorney Ronald Richard persists in pursuing this matter, he will be doing his clients a disservice because those attorney fees for Perry can only continue to climb.

LouisianaVoice also collected attorney fees in a recent SLAPP action when the presiding judge ruled in our favor. But there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs willing to sue and unless judges start imposing sanctions, there will be no incentive for attorneys to refrain from collecting legal fees to represent them.

Morvant’s ruling, for lack of a better term, is an absurd interpretation of the First Amendment held in such high esteem by Thomas Jefferson who once said if forced to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is just the kind of ruling, if it is allowed to stand, that can send us barreling down the slippery slope to a government without newspapers—or any other independent media with courage enough to report the truth.

Somewhere in the great hereafter, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew are applauding Morvant’s ruling and should he learn of it, Donald Trump will no doubt be tweeting the glad tidings of great joy about the “fake news” comeuppance.

 

Read Full Post »

Yet another ugly controversy involving a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), has surfaced this one involving claims by an Opelousas organization that one of LSPC’s newest members, Harold Pierite, Sr., attempted to shake down the group for thousands of dollars during its annual event held on land owned by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe in Marksville.

Organizers told LouisianaVoice that Pierite threatened to shut down the Step-N-Strut trail ride on its final day—the most important day of the event—unless they paid him $10,000 in cash. They said they ultimately paid him “about $4,000,” but many attendees pulled out early in the belief that the last day was being shut down.

The reports set off a belated denial by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and counter-denials by organizers of the event.

Pierite, the Tunica-Biloxi Police Chief, was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last March to the Louisiana State Police COMMISSION, which was created in 1991 to provide an independent civil service system for Louisiana State Troopers, said the demand for more money or his threat to close the event down “never happened.”

Pierite has served as a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Council for more than 15 years and as Chief of the Tunica-Biloxi Police Department for more than 20 years. He is a 1992 graduate of the Acadiana Law Enforcement Training Academy.

The Step-N-Strut Trail Ride is held the first week of each November and horse owners from all over the U.S. participate, according to Dave and Torry Lemelle, organizers of the annual three-day event.

The Lemelles have sponsored the event for the past 19 years, moving it from location to location in the state over the years. “We hold our trail ride the first week in November and participants come in from North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, and all over,” Torry Lemelle told LouisianaVoice.

She said trail rides are hosted by different clubs virtually every weekend. “They come to ours and we go to theirs,” she said. Participants pay a fee for attending the trail rides. (Click HERE to see a video of the grand entrance for this year’s event.)

Dave Lemelle said this year’s event was attended by about 3,000 persons and “between 400 and 500 horses.” Torry Lemelle said the trail ride is “like a music festival, only with horses.” She said bands play and participants hold cookouts and camp out on the grounds.

“This year, we held the trail ride on property the Tunica-Biloxi Trust in Marksville,” Dave Lemelle said.

The Lemelles provided copies of correspondence from Pierite in which he agreed to provide security at a flat fee of $30 per reservation officer and $40 per hour per State Trooper. He later tried to inflate the cost by claiming that more officers would be required, including State Police for traffic control on the highway leading to the reservation.

“They (Pierite and his chief deputy, Chico Mose) wanted us to pay for 24-hour security. This was not necessary,” Torry Lemelle said. “Chief Pierite was also going to give me one invoice to pay so that he could pay the officers. In informed him that each officer would be getting paid at the end of each night, according to the hours that we verified. Each officer also had to fill out a W-9 form.”

She said Pierite initially indicated on Oct. 6 that the cost to the organization would be $112,000. “We told Chief Pierite that the event could not afford the security that he wanted to provide (and) if we could not come to an agreement, we would have to cancel the event.

“He told us that he was sure that we would be able to come to an agreement and that he would revise the assignment. On Oct. 19, I received the revised detail assignment totaling $59,150. This revised assignment still had security for 24 hours.

“We spoke to the Louisiana State Police and they informed us that they do not require us to have State Troopers on the highway.”

She said on Oct. 20, the organization presented Pierite with a detailed assignment based on the past five years of security costs to Step-N-Strut’s annual trail ride at other location. She said security for past events totaled about $35,000.

“On Oct. 23, we received a denial letter for our detail assignments,” she said.

Pierite’s letter was addressed to Paul Scott. “Paul is a good friend of ours who has been organizing festivals for about 30 years,” Mrs. Lemelle said. “He also sits on the board of the Festival International De Louisiane. He has been helping us organize this event for the past six years. He is the one who actually met with Harold” on several occasions and was the one who paid Pierite for the security detail.

Dave Lemelle said that Keenan Malveaux, Pierite’s nephew, approached him prior to the event and demanded an additional payment of $35,000 in cash “to make it happen.” “He specifically said he wanted the payment in ‘untraceable’ cash,” Lemelle said.

“I asked what the additional money was for and he said, ‘To take care of some people.’ When I pressed him on who those ‘people’ were, he said it was for members of the Tribal Council.”

Following negotiations, Pierite’s denial, and the Tribal Council’s overturn of that denial, the trail ride finally got underway until the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5, when Pierite appeared to say he was shutting the event down, Lemelle said.

Pierite then left and was gone for five hours, he said. In the meantime, the Lemelles set about contacting Tribal Council members to have Pierite’s actions overturned again. “In the meantime,” Lemelle said, “news of the threatened cancellation spread like wildfire and people started packing up and leaving. There were some who heard about it on the way in and just turned around and left before they even got to the event.”

When Pierite returned five hours later, he demanded a payment of $10,000. “He said State Police and the FBI wanted the trail ride shut down.

Lemelle said Pierite was eventually paid “about $4,000.” But the damage was done.

Torry Lemelle said, “Chief Pierite extorted money from us throughout the whole process, using his authority, threatening to cancel this event if we did not pay him. When he realized that he was not getting any more money, he cancelled our event on Sunday morning, causing us to lose not only money but a large amount of our supporters. (He) used his authority to intimidate people and extort money.”

Pierite, contacted by LouisianaVoice on Monday, denied that he demanded money from the Lemelles, saying it “never happened.” He also denied that he threatened to shut down the event on its last day. Asked if he spoke to Dave Lemelle, he said, “Yes, I spoke with him, but not about that.”

Mose, also contacted by LouisianaVoice, appeared surprised by the claim that there was a threat to shut the event down, but he did not deny the allegation. He said he would check out the story and get back. He never did, however, although we did receive an official statement from a Tribal Council member through the offices of the Enrhardt Group, a New Orleans corporate communications and marketing firm.

Marshall Ray Sampson, Sr., vice chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, issued a statement through Enrhardt several hours after LouisianaVoice‘s inquiries about the dispute over the money:

“The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana was thrilled to be a part of the Step-N-Strut event this year and hope that all who attended had a wonderful experience. The annual event, which draws thousands of participants and their horses to the area, was unfortunately disrupted and subsequently delayed due to the actions of one participant.

“Late Saturday evening the Tribal Police department received reports that an event participant had shot a gun into the air. Thankfully, despite the crowds in the area, no one was hurt. Due to the quick response of the Tunica-Biloxi Police and security teams the area was quickly locked down. After assessing the situation for safety concerns it was determined that the event could not proceed without further security in place. Following the incident Tunica-Biloxi Police were forced to shut down the event late Saturday evening. Tribal leaders participated in consultations between the mayor and event organizers. After considering several options, it was determined the event could continue on Sunday morning, though slightly delayed.

Sampson’s claims that additional security was justified (thereby accounting for more costs) and that the event “was forced to shut down” were at odds with Pierite’s denial that more money was sought from the trail ride or that he had moved to have it shut down, leading to the conclusion that Sampson and Pierite failed to get together after our initial call to coordinate their stories.

“Events like the Step-N-Strut are widely loved and it is unfortunate that the actions of one participant resulted in a disruption. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe is working with the mayor’s office and event organizers to ensure that measures are in place moving forward to provide the full scope of security needed so the Step-N-Strut can continue on for years to come. We thank the security teams and Tribal Police for their quick response and are grateful no one was hurt and that the event, though slightly delayed on Sunday, was able to continue on to completion.”

Mrs. Lemelle was incensed at what she termed a self-serving statement from Sampson, calling it “a complete lie,” saying Sampson didn’t even know the Sunday schedule was shut down “until we contacted him.”

She said, “First of all, we were told it was a member of the Tunica-Biloxi police department who fired the gun, not one of our participants. Second, if it was shut down, why did the Tunica-Biloxi deputies arrive for security on Sunday morning? They all came on duty as if nothing was wrong because there was no shutdown until Pierite came on the scene and told us he was closing it down unless he got another $10,000. The mayor never even knew about the shutdown,” she said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the Tribal Council is conducting an investigation of Pierite.

Because whatever did happen occurred on tribal property, state authorities would have no power to investigate or arrest anyone. Any criminal investigation and/or prosecution would have to be conducted by the Tribal Council, the FBI, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The only remedy within the state’s purview would be for Gov. Edwards to remove Pierite from the State Police Commission.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »